A single-truck coal-hauling operation becomes a complex of family enterprises.
Once when Jim Laurita Jr. was 7 years old, in the late ’60s, he got completely engrossed in an underground mine map that his father, James, was working with. That map drove Jim to decide then and there to become a mining engineer—and he and, later, his brother Tom and sister Toni all went into the family businesses.
Established in Morgantown when Angelo Laurita came from Naples in 1898 to forge a better life for himself and his descendants, the Laurita family has more than fulfilled Angelo’s dreams—creating enterprises in trucking, excavation, production of gravel and coal as well as electricity and oil and gas, and, most recently, chemical distribution. The family has provided employment for many thousands of Morgantown-area residents over the decades and has contributed importantly to some of the city’s most beloved charitable institutions.
The Lauritas’ entrepreneurial history starts with Joseph Sr., who some around town may also remember as Tony. He was the son of Angelo and grandfather to Jim, Tom, and Toni. Joseph came into the world in 1908, part of the first generation born in the U.S. He had to leave school after the third grade to work with his father in the tin mill in Sabraton. But when he was in his 40s and providing comfortably enough for his wife and five children, he set some money aside to become his own boss: He bought a truck and started hauling coal from the mines at Stewartstown. By the late ’50s, his sons James and John had joined him, and the business became Laurita Trucking and Excavating. It evolved over the following decades from trucking and excavation to underground and surface mining.
James married Beverly Ann Getz in 1957, and children Jim Jr., Tom, and Toni grew up off Point Marion Road in the ’60s and ’70s and attended St. Francis de Sales. The extended family stayed close—the kids saw their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all the time, and they were surrounded by daily conversation about the mines. During summers off school, the boys worked, picking slate from mined coal and running heavy machinery before they were even old enough to get driver’s licenses.
As planned, young Jim did earn a degree in mining engineering from WVU, and he took his new knowledge to the family businesses. Tom wasn’t as immediately sure. More interested in starting his work life than in finishing college, he ran the family’s coal barge–loading facility for 7 years. Then, in 1984, he restarted the trucking and excavation business as Laurita, Inc. Toni earned a degree in accounting and, now Toni Dering, made accounting her role in the family enterprise. In addition to Laurita, Inc., the family’s multiple businesses and investments have included in part the coal producer MEPCO, Longview power plant, Laurel Aggregates, Mid-Atlantic Energy Services in oil and gas, and Phoenix Solutions in chemical distribution. The wider family has been active in business in Morgantown, too—notably, James’ brothers John and Joseph, who formed their own independent coal companies.
Several charities have been special causes for this branch of the Laurita family. Beverly Laurita was part of the effort that led, in 1975, to the establishment of Christian Help and was a longtime volunteer, and the Laurita family donated its building on Walnut Street. Tom Laurita has devoted himself to Mon Valley Habitat for Humanity with long service as a board member and previous chair and is currently serving on the construction committee. And the family’s financial donations to Chestnut Mountain Ranch starting a decade ago grew to include site preparation for new structures, and Jim Jr., having retired from MEPCO and Longview Power, began volunteering full-time to manage the organization’s construction program in 2018.
Today, several younger Lauritas have become the fourth generation to take part in the family businesses. Jim’s son James III worked at Laurel Aggregates for several years with increasing management responsibility, then took on leadership of the family’s oil and gas business, Mid-Atlantic Energy Services, in 2014. One of Tom’s sons, Zach, worked in the excavation business in high school, earned an MBA at WVU, and has managed a three-year highway project on Interstate 66 in Manassas, Virginia. He is now VP of Operations for Laurita, Inc.
Jim Jr. attributes the family’s success to the entrepreneurial spirit inspired long ago by Joseph Sr. and the work ethic instilled by James and Beverly, who still in their 80s go to the office four and five days a week. “Our parents and grandparents taught us through word and example that we should value and fear God, appreciate and endeavor to place family above everything else in this world, value hard work and conservative means, and value our employees more than the business itself,” he says. “We love the people here, love Morgantown, love the state.”